Major leagues: Here’s what student-athletes study at Stanford

Choosing a major can be a daunting task for any college student, but for student-athletes, the decision can be even more complex. Balancing a demanding schedule makes it challenging to find a major that aligns with both personal interests and athletic commitments. 

The need to balance academics and athletics have led student-athletes ​​to select certain majors at disproportionate rates compared to the rest of the undergraduate population. 

According to data that the Daily scraped from the Stanford Athletics website, during the 2023-24 school year, roughly 16% of declared student-athletes studied Science, Technology & Society (STS). This makes STS the most popular student-athlete major at Stanford. 

In 2022, STS was the third most popular student-athlete major behind Human Biology (HumBio) and Management Science and Engineering (MS&E), but has since climbed up the ranks.

This school year, HumBio is the second most popular major amongst athletes with 49 students, followed by Computer Science with 45 students, MS&E with 35 students and Economics with 22 students. 

The top majors among the general student body are Computer Science, Economics, Engineering, Human Biology and Symbolic Systems, which make STS and MS&E outliers specific to athletes. 

Monica Holt, the Lead Undergraduate Advising Director for student-athletes, attributed the popularity of the STS major to its flexibility and interdisciplinary nature.

“Students I talk to enjoy having the opportunity to take some STEM courses, but to also have humanities classes mixed in, as they are getting to build a broad base of knowledge,” Holt wrote in an email to the Daily. “There is also a wide array of courses to choose from when determining what classes students want to take to fulfill certain requirements, which students enjoy.”

Within the general trends among student-athletes, certain teams also follow patterns for major selection. 

In the fall, the football team had 19 STS majors, accounting for nearly 32% of the declared STS majors who are student-athletes. Similarly, the baseball team is composed of majority STS and MS&E majors. 

Men’s rowing, men’s track and field, and men’s cross country all have a simple majority of Computer Science majors. 

Maya Valmon, a junior women’s sprinter and HumBio major interested in medicine, cited flexibility as the main factor in student-athlete major selection.

“The more flexible majors tend to be the ones that the athletes pick more because you can align it with your schedule and how much work you can do in a given season,” said Valmon.

Valmon, who is interested in social justice and how racism affects health outcomes, said that compared to Biology, HumBio allows her to explore other subjects within the major.

“HumBio is a lot more interdisciplinary than normal biology. When you take the core, one half of your classes are normal biology classes, but the second half of the classes look at the human being in the context of society,” Valmon said. “We talk about social determinants of health, psychology, sociology, racism, the economy, insurance, and looking at people instead of what is going on inside your body.” 

Outside of aspirations to pursue medicine, HumBio is an enticing major for student-athletes given how it pulls in athletics and human performance.

“HumBio is the one major that is most closely associated with human performance because there are a lot of classes in physiology, nutrition and sports performance within the major.”

Within Valmon’s team alone, there are six HumBio majors.

“Track and field is a sport that really centers human performance and physiology because it’s really a matter of athleticism and how well you can optimize your body to perform, so they go together,” Valmon said.

The sprinter also finds the HumBio department to be incredibly supportive of student-athletes.

“There are a lot of athletes that study HumBio, so the department is really interested in athletics and good about celebrating athletic achievements,” said Valmon. “Anytime I do something good in track, all of the HumBio faculty know about it and congratulate me, which I think is really sweet.”

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